The Benefits of Volunteering

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Having started with the title, I realised that other people might have had something to say on this topic and so, after a little lazy internet research, have discovered that volunteering will make me live longer, with more friends, less stubborn belly fat, better mental health and enhanced career prospects. Wow. And I was only thinking of the fact that volunteering had brought me out of an evening to Arnside Knott and put me in the right spot to witness a spectacular sunset. Although I should add that it had previously put me in the right spot to see the Scotch Argus* in the company of knowledgable people who recognised it as such and had also meant that I had been shown the Spiked Speedwell, another Arnside Knott rarity. Oh, and to being given a tip on where to find Lesser Butterfly Orchids next summer.

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This was the second of three sessions of flora surveying on Redhill Pasture, this time with just our team of three volunteers, without the expert guidance from the National Trust, who own the land, or Morecambe Bay Partnerships, who are coordinating various such surveys around the Bay. The surveying didn’t begin so auspiciously – I’d walked over from home and we’d met in the car park on the Knott before walking down to continue our survey. We soon discovered that the Meadow Ants were swarming. The air was full of winged ants and circling gulls, presumably taking advantage of a bonanza of insect prey. I was soon covered in ants, and then discovered that they were inside my shirt as well as all over the surface. I’ve read that meadow ants can’t bite or sting humans, but I can only report that the next morning I was covered in angry red lumps. Must have been psychosomatic. We were working on quadrats roughly two metres by two metres and by the third I was just about ready to give up, but fortunately, when we moved a little way uphill for the fourth, the number of ants about became bearable again. We found that, after our training sessions, we were able to work with reasonable speed and confidence and had soon progressed to the areas of Blue Moor Grass along the top edge of the pasture from where we witnessed the sunset.

*It only occurs to me now that, in Greek mythology, Argus is a one-hundred eyed giant. Since the Scotch Argus has several eyes around the rim of its wings perhaps this explains the name. Or it might do, except for the fact that the Brown Argus and the Northern Brown Argus (both unrelated to the Scotch Argus) don’t have the eyes. Oh well, nice theory, but more research needed perhaps.

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The Benefits of Volunteering

A Corvid Walk

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Later in the day, after my walk from Brockhole, with the weather now much improved, I was out for another stroll, a standard Hagg Wood, Silverdale Green, Stankelt Lane and across the Lots to the Cove wander.

The trees were absolutely full of small birds, but whilst they were very easy to hear, they were much less easy to see. The Oak above had a family of Blue Tits, which tantalised me by briefly showing themselves then hopping about in the branches, mostly obscured by leaves.

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The Sycamore helicopters which only recently appeared have changed colour already and are now tinged with red.

I watched these two Crows for a while.

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Shortly after I took this first photo, the Crow at the front leant a little too far forward, over-balanced and did an involuntary forward-roll, then sprang back-up and comically continued as if nothing had happened.

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Of course, I’m anthropomorphising, but it’s almost impossible, I suspect, not to project human emotions on to animals when you watch them going about their daily business.

Jackdaws can regularly be found in certain places in the area: Trowbarrow, Arnside Tower, the quarry on Warton Crag. I’ve realised recently that Stankelt Road is another such venue. These chimney pots had four birds perched on them…

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But when all four had flown away, perhaps unnerved by my attention, I could still hear the sounds of Jackdaws from that direction…

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There were more birds in the chimney pots! I think that these are juvenile birds sitting in nests. Some hopped out for a look around…

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…and a bit of an explore…

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When I lived around the corner on Emesgate Lane, I used to get a lot of squawking and detritus down my own chimney, most memorably an abundance of cherry seeds one summer. I suppose that may well have been Jackdaws too.

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A Corvid Walk

Helicopters

Hagg Wood – Clifftop Path – Wolf House – Jack Scout – Lindeth Road

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Bank Holiday Monday, as is so often the case, was a bit of a wash-out, weather-wise at least. What better way, then, to spend a wet day in May than chatting and playing daft games with old friends?

The Shandy Sherpa and The Beach Funster and I did escape for a shopping trip, incorporating a wander to The Cove and across The Lots.

These photos are from the day after, when the weather improved somewhat.

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These Sycamore keys – ‘helicopters’ when I was a nipper – have appeared on the Mystery Tree, or perhaps I should say Former Mystery Tree, which is by Hagg Wood.

I’ve been mulling over an idea on recent walks about why I prefer Spring to Summer, or at least one reason why I do. In Spring there’s an orderly progression of events: Snowdrops appear in the lanes and then in the woods by Hawes Water; then I expect to see Daffodils, Toothwort and Green Hellebore in short order; swallows will arrive around my birthday, Beech leaves shortly after. I know what to expect, roughly when to expect it and where I might find things. The changes are familiar, and reassuring, and limited in number.

But when summer comes around, I can’t keep up. There are new flowers everywhere, in profusion and a myriad of forms, many of which I can’t identify. One moment the new oaks leaves are yellow and wrinkly, the next they’re lush and green and obscuring the birds in the trees. Changes seem to happen at a bewildering rate. It’s not that I don’t like Summer, it’s just that I wish it would take its time a little more.

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Gibraltar Farm.

Anyway, this is now sounding like a moan, which wasn’t really my intention and which doesn’t fit at all with these photos from what was really a very pleasant stroll down to Jack Scout to watch the sunset.

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Swallows by Gibraltar Farm.

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Blackbird.

Except I missed the sunset: by the time I’d walked around the landward side of the field and reached the clifftop at the southern end of the site, the sun had already disappeared. The after show was pretty good though.

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In among all of the Foxgloves, which seem to have crept up on me and arrived tall and all-grown-up without warning, there was a single specimen with white flowers…

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Less whinging in the next post, I promise.

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Helicopters

Serendipty Squared

Eaves Wood – Hawes Water – Gait Barrows – Coldwell Meadows – Coldwell Limeworks – Silverdale Moss – Hawes Water – Eaves Wood

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By rights, this post should have been an account of a walk from the Leck Fell Road taking in Coum Hill and Gragareth via Ease Gill. I had it all planned: I drove as far as Cowan Bridge, but the car was playing up, unexpectedly losing power without warning or any apparent reason; so, reluctantly, I drove home – with some difficulty – left the car outside the local garage, and walked home through the village. Later, I decided to cut my losses by heading out for a local wander.

The previous week, when I’d been in Eaves Wood looking for Cuddlytoy-Makeshift -Orienteering-Controls, I was distracted by a proper hullabaloo issuing from a Birch tree which was listing from the perpendicular. I recognised the commotion as the distinctive uproar of a Woodpecker nest, with what sounded like several chicks demanding food. I scanned the tree and soon found the hole in the trunk which housed the nest. I watched for a while, but whilst both parent birds approached, they became agitated and wouldn’t visit the nest under the glare of my attention, so I left them to it. Now I was back. I could only hear one young bird this time, but it was making-up for having to perform solo by protesting its extreme hunger with remarkable vigour.

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I assumed that the other chicks had fledged and that this one would be on the point of leaving too, but I was back there a few days later, with some old friends, and the single chick was still there, and still every bit as volubly voracious. We watched it poking its head through that porthole and clammering for sustenance. This morning, however, I was back again and all was finally quiet.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Amongst the Buttercups near Hawes Water there were many Rabbits, a couple of them black. Escaped pets or the descendants of escapees?

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Blue-tailed Damselflies.

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This…

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…has me stumped. It may be a teneral damselfly, that is, a recently emerged adult which doesn’t yet have its adult colouration.

In Eaves Wood I’d seen many Squirrels. It occurred to me that, although they are always about, there are times of the year, this being one of them, when Squirrels are more active and therefore more evident. I was also thinking about a Squirrels drey and the fact that, whilst in theory I know that Squirrels live in a nest made of sticks, I”d never actually seen one before.

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Ironic then, that when I watched this Squirrel, it climbed up a Scots Pine to…

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…a drey!

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Bird’s-eye Primrose.

I was intrigued by a loud tearing sound in the reeds at the edge of the lake and went to investigate the cause. I was very surprised to find that the culprit was this little Blue Tit…

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Yellow Rattle.

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Because I find Orchids very difficult to identify, but also absolutely fascinating, I’ve long wanted a field guide dedicated solely to them. Usually, if I wait long enough, the Oxfam bookshop in Lancaster will fulfil my needs and this winter that’s exactly what happened. So I am now the proud owner of ‘A Guide to the Wild Orchids of Great Britain and Ireland’ by David Lang and have become an expert.

‘Yeah right’, as A would say. This looks to me very, very like Northern Marsh Orchid, especially the majaliformis sub-species. Except, this was growing in a relatively well-drained meadow, not a marsh, and the sub-species is only found within 100 metres of the coast, and this meadow is a little further than that from the Bay.

As is often the case, I didn’t have an exact route in mind; I’d thought of going to take another gander at the Lady’s-slipper Orchids, but chose instead to take another path through Gait Barrows – one that I knew would take me past several patches of…

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…Lily-of-the-Valley.

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It was getting late, but rather than doubling-back towards home, I took the track out of the nature reserve onto the road, without really knowing where I would go next. When I reached the road, I noticed a small notice attached to a gate almost opposite. It said something like “Welcome to Coldwell Meadows AONB Nature Reserve”. I decided to investigate.

Good choice! In the meadow, no doubt tempted by the lush, un-grazed grass, were a small herd of Fallow Deer…

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These are not a native species, and whilst I have seen feral deer in this area before, the last time I did so was quite a few years ago. I assume that these are more escapees, perhaps from the Deer park at Dallam?

I also saw a Marsh Harrier, and managed to get a photo, but not a very good one.

At the far side of the field from the road a small, and very tempting, gate gave on to woods. I thought I could guess where it would take me, and I was right: a short downhill stroll brought me to the ruined chimney of Coldwell Limeworks and from there it’s only a few strides to the footpath which runs along the edge of Silverdale Moss.

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I was gazing into the distant views of the setting sun and the meres of the Moss, when a crashing sound in the hedgerow focused my attention closer to hand. I couldn’t see anything in the hedge, but there in the long grass, just over the drystone wall….

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…a Roe Deer Buck. He watched me closely for a while, then barked in the eerie way they do, and bounded around the corner – the long vegetation seemingly necessitating a gait more like that of a bouncing gazelle than what I would normally associate with our own Deer.

After he’d rounded a corner and disappeared, another bark surprised me, and then a Doe, or at least, I think it was a Doe, jumped out of the grass, where she had been completely hidden, and also leapt away.

I waited a moment: there were still rustlings in the hedge. Sure enough, a third Deer appeared, quite a bit smaller than the other two…

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…but this one didn’t run away. Retreating rather in small stages, anxiously keeping an eye on me all the while and not really seeming to know quite what to do.

A bit of a puzzle this little group. I don’t think Roe Deer live in family groups and Roe Deer Kids are usually born between mid-May and mid-June, so the third Deer probably wasn’t new-born. But, on the other had, Bucks are territorial in the summer, with the rut running from mid-July to the end of August.

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The former Cloven Ash.

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With the light now very low, this might I suppose, have been enough excitement for one night, but back in Eaves Wood for the final leg of the walk, two different raptors slalomed impressively through the trees. One was a Buzzard…

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…the other, wasn’t a Buzzard, but apart from that I don’t really have any clue what it was.  Very fast and very agile between the tightly-spaced tree-trunks, it will have to remain a mystery.

Ease-gill and Gragareth are both very fine, and will wait for another walk. This last minute replacement worked out pretty well!

‘You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, well you just might find,
You get what you need.’

Serendipty Squared

All we have to do is look.

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How is it that we can have Roe Deer in our garden, even up near to the house, but I still get excited when I see one across a field, partially obscured by reeds? This one, incidentally, is male, unlike the two which were recently in our garden and seems to have lost it’s winter coat completely.

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How is it that I feel drawn to return to Gait Barrows every year to see the reintroduced Lady’s-slipper Orchids and photograph them yet again, even though it’s overcast and the photos won’t be as good as those I’ve taken before?

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Not that I’m complaining.

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I’m very lucky I suppose, that I never tire of the views over the Gait Barrows limestone pavements. Or of our ever changing skies.

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Or Rowan flowers.

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‘You can’t see Venice twice for the first time,’ Mirabel said. After the first excitement of newness, will there always be the same enchantment every year, watching the rose buds open, the irises unfurl? It’s the challenge that faces us all at some point, and which faces me now, twenty years on from the beginning of the garden. And it’s true: you can change the colour of your tulips, you can forswear roses in favour of dahlias, you can even move house and make a new garden, but you can never leave yourself behind. For it is the eye which becomes jaded – the mind, not its object. Even for Traherne it was a struggle to retain that freshness of vision, to protect it from the eroding sea of experience. As he constantly reminded himself, ‘I must become a child again.’ But even if we cannot see all anew each year, we can each time strive to see it deeper, differently: the experience can be enriched not impoverished. A rose at forty or at eighty means something different from a rose at twenty; we naturally bring to it more associations, whether personal or literary or historical, more ‘back story’. And if we can’t see Venice twice for the first time, neither can we step into the same river twice – the world is perpetually changing, renewing itself. See how different a single rose, a single petal can be, not only every year, but every day, and every hour of every day, as the world turns around it – in all weathers, in every season, bud and bloom, calyx and corolla. All we have to do is look.”

Katherine Swift The Morville Hours.

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Traherne is Thomas the seventeenth century poet, Mirabel is Mirabel Osler who writes, like Swift, about gardening. I’ll probably have more to say about ‘The Morville Hours’ at some point, but for now, suffice to say that it is an excellent read, and I’m not an enthusiastic gardener.

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Ear Fungus.

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And all we need to do is look.

That being said, I’m happy to stick with just looking. Any additional interaction is generally unwelcome.

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I wasn’t overly struck with the attentions of these six ponies. Admittedly, they were pretty docile, just following me across the field.

But the calves in the next field ran after me. Now, of course, here in front of my computer I can see that they were inquisitive, gambolling playfully perhaps, and not ravening beasts braying for blood after all.

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Anyway, there were only five of them. And I reached the stile before they made it across the field.

In the next field, there were more like thirty. It was a large field and I felt quite uncomfortable walking across it with all of them behind me. Could they tell that I’d had roast beef for my tea? I only stopped to take a photo once there was a wall between them and me.

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Since this is not something which usually happens to me, four times in one week seems like more than just a coincidence. I shall have to assume that either I have suddenly started to emit some sort of ‘hunter-gatherer’ pheromone which is inducing this behaviour, or that it’s a spring-time, fading-light instinct particular to this season in herding animals. The latter seems more plausible.

All we have to do is look.

Eiders at Jenny Brown’s

Sharp’s Lot – Hollins Lane – Fleagarth Wood – Jenny Brown’s Point – Jack Scout – The Lots – The Cove.

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Warton Crag, Quicksand Pool and a huge washed-up, rust-stained timber.

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Early Purple Orchid.

Another evening stroll, very pleasant in itself, but made lustrous by an unexpected encounter. As I approached Jenny Brown’s Point I spotted a duck on the far side of Quicksand Pool. Even when seen out of the corner of my eye, something struck me about it and so I used the camera’s telephoto to find out whether or not I was really looking at a male Eider or merely another Shelduck…

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A male Eider!

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In amongst the trees at the southern end of Jack Scout I spent a while trying to photograph songsters – a Blackbird, a Robin and an elusive Chiff-chaff.

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Because the tide was well in, I decided to follow the coast rather than the path which runs along the wall where butterflies are more often to be seen. I’m pleased that I did.

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Another male Eider!

Of course, we’ve usually seen Eiders when we’ve been to Piel Island and I also spotted one last time we were at Roa Island, but I’ve never seen their courtship display before.

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A group of seven ducks were drifting on the tide and the males were throwing their heads back along their backs and cooing. It’s a very odd sound. (Better pictures, and a  fuller description here.)

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There was a male Merganser in with the Eiders for a while, not sure what he was up to.

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Black-backed Gull flying across the sun’s glitter path.

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More ‘Long Purples’.

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Sunset from the Lots.

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Eiders at Jenny Brown’s

The Late Show

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When I returned from my stroll by the Bela I wasn’t going out again. I had things to do. Important things. Household chores and work and stuff. But the low sun was painting the trees gold with dark eastern skies behind.

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So – another quick wander. I headed east first, towards Hagg Wood, but then turned down Bottom’s Lane and then back along Cove Road towards the coast.

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Female Blackbird.

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Hagg Wood.

I bumped into the Tower Captain, out walking his dogs, and he guessed, correctly, that I was sunset hunting.

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The night before I had been walking without my camera, thinking that the mass of cloud meant that the sunset wouldn’t be up to much. I was wrong, it was quite spectacular.

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But not up to the show that the skies put on this evening.

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The clouds which provided the drama were also bringing rain, although the rain never made it to me, and a faint rainbow apparently arcing down directly onto our house.

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Well worth another trip out.

The Late Show